Optimism builds for Grand County construction industry
May 30, 2014
The scars from the 2008 financial crisis still dot the Grand County landscape. The Highland Lumber building in Tabernash sits mostly vacant. The frame of the James Peak Lodge development in Winter Park was torn down, but the remaining dirt lot leaves a gap in the town's commercial strip. A large golf development property in Granby was never built. Diminished property taxes left government agencies, schools, and libraries scrambling to maintain services.
But there may be a silver lining. Or at least one on the horizon.
"We've been pleasantly surprised with respect to the amount of new projects and future interest in remodels and new construction. It seems like it's been steadily increasing over the last three years, and especially between last year and this year, we've seen a jump," said Scott Munn, founder of Munn Architecture, in Granby. .
"I think it has skipped off the bottom. It may not go right to the surface, but it's increasing," he said.
According to the January through April building department report for the towns of Winter Park, Fraser, and Granby, there is no clear trend in upcoming building prospects. Total permits issued are slightly down for this year, but the valuation of projects is up. So there are fewer projects to date, but the ones that are being built are worth more, and bring in more revenues in fees.
The Grand County Building Department's permit report year-to-date for May, 22, 2014, yields almost identical trends. The number of permits issued is flat, 113 this year to 2013's 112 for the same period. But the valuation of the projects in 2014 is $521,990 greater than the prior year. The report accounts for all types of building projects, not just new construction. The county building department oversees the towns of Hot Sulphur Springs, Kremmling, and Grand Lake, as well as all of unincorporated Grand County.
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According to the department, the types of projects being built are bigger — more single-family dwellings rather than remodels and smaller repair jobs.
Craig Kobe, regional manager for JVA Inc, an engineering firm in Winter Park, has plenty to do. He believes building departments and contractors aren't seeing the extent of the growth yet because many of the projects are still in the planning phases.
"We're slammed. We basically went from four to six in the office. And then we added an intern, so we're seven. And we're still understaffed. We're cranking right now through a lot of projects," he said.
When asked if it is a trend that will last, Kobe is hopeful.
"Honestly, right now, it sure feels like it's here to stay. I can't say for how long. Denver's been hot for about five years now, and we typically follow Denver."
But caution at this point is prudent, as plans don't necessarily materialize into projects.
"Things are certainly improving," said James Shockey, Winter Park town planner. "Developers are coming back and showing interest in developing property. We have a lot of interest, but we'll see if those discussions turn into permits."
Builders start to see signs
Les Watkins, president of L.D. Watkins Construction Services Inc in Granby, speaks like a man who has weathered a storm.
"It's been rough here. There really hasn't been a lot of work going in Grand County. I am not expecting a great year because there's too much used inventory."
The downturn in building jobs after 2008 caused Watkins to get creative. The majority of his recent work has been remodeling and restoration. He was also forced to expand outside of the county about five years ago.
But just in the past week, he has seen a sudden improvement.
"Our bid load is doubled right now," he said. "It has definitely picked up just recently."
Watkins' crew also broke ground on a new home in Grand Lake, the first home he's built in five years.
"It's going to be a down year, but compared to the last five years, it's going to be an improvement. We haven't had a home through the recession," he said.
RE/MAX Winter Park broker associate Monica D. Anderson believes a lot of that used inventory is disappearing.
"We are definitely seeing an increase in buyer activity this year," she said. Anderson explained that much of the inventory on the lower end, such as homes between $150,000 and $300,000, as well as the lower-priced condos are drying up.
Carpenter Mike Brannagan decided that the timing is right to start his own company, after years of working for other contractors. Last spring he started Brannagan Builds LLC, specializing in interior trim work.
"I was looking for a new challenge and wanted to stay small but also run projects. I always figured I would have my own business," he said.
Brannagan sees an upside to the slower growth, because many of the companies that were here to take advantage of the boom have since packed up and left town.
"As far as the building rebounding, it may not be as strong. But we're back to that core group of locals who have always built up here and know what it takes to build up here. They do good work," he said.